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Why Has College Graduates’ Unemployment Rate Increased?

college graduate unemployment

Educational attainment and unemployment rate are closely correlated, as the unemployment rate by education shows softer curves and lower values, the higher the qualification. And yet, the past decade has thrown up a curious aberration as college graduates’ unemployment rate increase showed a sharper uptrend than any other group.

The unemployment rate of people without high school diplomas fell from 5.4% in 2018 to 4% in 2019, while the unemployment rate among college graduates remained unchanged. In December 2019, before the pandemic, the bachelors’ degree holders’ unemployment rate (aged 22-27) was higher than the general unemployment rate. During the pandemic, these groups have seen an upward trend in job losses and more difficulty finding jobs.

Even among recently employed graduates, there is a widespread occurrence of underemployment. The recent graduate underemployment rate increased after the 2000s, as did the college graduates’ underemployment rate. Nearly half of the job seekers are employed in jobs that don’t require a degree.

There are variations within the group of all recent graduates. The unemployment rates are lowest for STEM graduates while high for liberal arts and some sciences and law graduates. Underemployment rates show a similar pattern.

Why Are Unemployed College Graduates Such A Cause For Concern?

Unemployment among graduates is problematic not only because they are more vulnerable to the usual problems caused by high joblessness but also because of the financial costs associated with American higher education. Student loans have become the 2nd largest debt category in the US, and the student loan debt amount is likely $1.56 trillion, owed by about 45 million borrowers.

The average debt per student is about $36,000, while the median student debt is about $17,000. About 56% of debt forgiveness applicants don’t end up qualifying. People spend over 10 years repaying the debt while also amassing home and car loans.

As mentioned above, specific disciplines have higher unemployment and underemployment, such as liberal arts, performing arts, media, ethnic studies, anthropology, philosophy, and criminal justice. When these graduates struggle to find jobs in relevant industries that can effectively use their skills, they may struggle with upward mobility in their future careers. Many who enter low-paying jobs may find it hard to transition away later.

New graduates enter the market with every passing year, making it harder for those still unemployed and enter the cycle themselves. Not selecting an in-demand major seems to affect their chances negatively. The alternative of a research career is also not easy to accomplish with diminishing funding every year. 

Why Are College Graduates Facing High Unemployment?

The role of universities in the recent graduate unemployment crisis is getting a lot of attention in recent years. They are facing criticism for not aligning their curricula with the job market requirements. While STEM employers often invest in upskilling their recruits, the lack of marketable skills among the other graduates makes it harder for them to find jobs. While university fees go up frequently, students emerge unprepared for the realities of adulthood and job life.

The second problem is a perceived lack of fresher jobs compared to those requiring slightly more experienced applicants, whether or not the actual work requires any advanced skills. The lack of networks also hurts recent graduates, as many jobs are obtained through referrals.

Although universities are supposed to provide lots of opportunities to develop people skills, that’s not necessarily true. Graduates with poor social skills may be unable to get through job interviews.

How Has COVID-19 Affected Things?

It was hard enough for college graduates who had difficulty getting jobs before 2020, when the economy was strong. The pandemic has decimated industries where recent graduates with fewer skills could make enough to pay off bills. They are struggling to pay bills, buy groceries, etc. Many are expected to default on their loan repayments, though there were temporary respite measures initially.

Many students have chosen to postpone college or defer their admission due to economic instabilities. Many cannot afford the expenses now, while some may have to drop out as they are afraid of the inability to make enough money in the future to repay the debt.

Finding a job is more challenging than ever, with many recent graduates seeing their employment offers rescinded. Even aspiring teachers are finding it difficult as many schools are unsure of what the future holds.

Yet, some people want to transition into new careers and consider getting graduate degrees as adults. Many are afraid to have gaps in their resumes and plan to return to school to upskill till the virus blows over.


Young graduates eligible for unemployment insurance have been greatly aided by the same, and the extra $600 payments provided respite to many. The government will have to alleviate various concerns in the future, as hopes for a vaccine appear on the horizon.

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  1. I worked both in Oregon and in Iowa in the base period (Jul-2019 to Jun 2020). My last job was in Iowa; but I worked almost double in Oregon than in Iowa. Previously I applied for benefits in Kansas in Feb 2020, but that was based on totally different wages. And Kansas sent letter in Dec-2020 that my benefits in Kansas had been exhausted and that I did not qualify for extended benefits in Kansas. But still Oregon declined my claim, and they kept asking me to get the extended benefits from Kansas. This is very frustrating.

    Also it is not possible to contact the unemployment department of Oregon because their phones are disabled. Now I am getting benefits from Iowa, but the benefit amount in Iowa is less than Oregon, so I want to transfer my benefits to Oregon. But it looks that nobody in Oregon understands it. Now I have filed for hearing in Oregon, but it is likely that I would not be able to explain to the judge that what I want. This is very disappointing.

    If you could give me some advice that how to explain it to them, it would be much appreciated. If you could tell me the number of Oregon regulation which supports my case, that would be very helpful. Thanks for help.

  2. I had trouble getting my proof of self-employment to upload in secure file exchange and finally got it submitted by 12:06 am , 6 minutes late. What are the possibilities that they will deny it? I have received unemployment from March 2020 to some of Jan and some in Feb 2021. Most of Dec, Jan, Feb, March, & april were stopped for this proof of employment.
    Also, I see proof of Income as a 2nd issue but it is always on there. That was not on my TO DO list.
    I feel for u all on ID.ME…

    Anyone trying to reach UI, call their number, press 2 or 3 (questions abt filing a claim?) and then wait thru the message. At the end of it, u will be connected to a live person! I promise.. don’t push another button.. I’ve done it 4 times and it never failed.

    We lost our home, my ex took my child…. (kept her after a visit and called cps facilitating drama while the cops wouldn’t give her back without paperwork locked up in the court house..shut down for covid) I raised her by myself for 12 years & now she is with a violent alcoholic and parental alienating parent .. ….my dog, my 9-year sweet little best friend, was attacked, passing away 3 days later.. all in this time frame.
    But! It will all be ok. I have faith.

    Be grateful for your life and all that is in it today. What u dwell on daily will be your strength or weakness.
    Good luck to all of u.
    And thank you, Jeff, for responding out here. It is appreciated!
    Davulia S.

  3. I filed over two months ago. I have not received any information. My status says “pending resolution”. I have no way of contacting anyone. My position was eliminated at my job and I submitted the documentations online. I dont know what else I can do.

    • Chris,

      If safe and feasible, please consider the option of visiting an office in the vicinity.

  4. I have been apply Ohio Pua unemployment since July 5th still pending issues. Upload what they ask for when ever I call says your case is in Adjudication. Very very frustrated, financially I am broke. Health issues. Waiting a long period.Don’t know what I will do ?

    • Same here since Feb 2021 turned in all the documents still pending issues 3 months now. When you call they tell you to be patient. Pulling my hair out it’s so frustrating.

    • Nafisa,

      I can understand your situation. There will be a delay considering the number of applications that are being processed. Please continue chasing the office/check your status online at regular intervals until payments normalize.

  5. I was receiving PUA unemployment. they made me file for a new claim in February. Now I am in adjudication even though I gave all the same information from my previous claim. Have been adjudication since February and I call and they say they will put in a ticket to have an Adjudicator call me. Nothing. I am wondering If I can go down to to Maryland Unemployment Office and demand that someone talk with me to release my claim for payment. It’s been 56 days. I read that they have a maximum of 45 days.

    • t sounds just like mine only im disqualified yet actie every till sept 4th . they haven’t asked me for anything! i file then its disqualified yet im told im ok and have nothing to do bit wait for an answer? answer to what? they switched my program and all and asked me to provide proof for a claim that wa denied al eady back in 2018! deny me once and then again perhaps? lol idk

    • Luis,

      Your adjudicator may be inundated with pending cases. Please continue to follow up (if you have the contact details) or consider the option of visiting an office in the vicinity if safe and feasible.

  6. My mom had unemployment in Florida. She just recently moved temporally to California with a sister since she needs assistance, and now the website is telling her she cannot do anything because she is register in another state. Can she keep filing unemployment in Florida, even if she is living and register now in another state? how is the process to change the unemployment? I tried calling and there is no answer. Thank you!

    • Stephanie,

      Please ask your mother to consider transferring the UI benefits from FL to CA (details will be available on either of the websites). If there are benefits weeks left in the account, she will be able to claim them.

    • Leatha,

      UI benefits are offered to claimants who lose employment involuntarily and be able to and available for work.

  7. I lived in ga in 2019 and move to florida in 2020 and work for the xmas months in nov-dec. I was told to do a combine wage claim. my question is which state do i file the claim in?

  8. I filed for pua in Ohio back in October 2020.My claim has been in ajudacatuon since 11/1/20.So 2 to 6 weeks is a total understatement! When I call.i am told to basically hurry up and wait some more.I have recently been redetermined and my claim is allowed.but I have one pending issue.How long is too long?

    • Nicole,

      Unfortunately, nobody has an answer. There are perhaps thousands of pending applications. Please consider the option of visiting an office in the vicinity if safe and feasible.

  9. If you claim your weeks for unemployment and for the next 2 months you still have not received your money. Where can you go in volusia county to talk with a live person

      • HI Jeff,
        I applied back in Dec 5th, 2020 and I haven’t received any correspondence, is there a local office that I can make an appt to make certain my claim is right.

        • Adam,

          You can consider visiting an office in the vicinity if safe and feasible (details will be available on the Unemployment Office’s website).

  10. On NYS DOL website, my claim is saying current yet the information is for my old claim with 0 days remaining despite receiving 2 weeks of payments on the new claim and I was able to certify last night. I haven’t received anything; no letters or emails.

  11. I was disqualified for UI benefits for not providing an ID and other forms of identification. How do I fix this?

  12. What is the procedure if it appears a pension amount has not been applied to Unemploymemt claim?

  13. My name micheal powell79 i. Been trying to file for a weekly but it wont let me !!can someone please help

    • Hi Mike, I’m in NYS and was at the end of my BYE on 3/14, I was still certifying but wasn’t getting paid. I found out I had to file a new claim because my other was exhausted. I’m still waiting on approval. Maybe you have to file a new claim. I hope this helps.

        • Gary,

          You may not be eligible since unemployment insurance is only extended to those who become unemployed due to involuntary reasons.

  14. They say 2-6 weeks it’s more accurate to say 2-6 months; and when you call many of them are rude and unwilling to assist!

  15. someone needs to look into Sharon L. Anton gillette, wyo. or dickinson, nd she is a fraud and has done so many fraudulent things and please look into her

    • Annette,

      Please report it to the Fraud Division of the Unemployment Office in your state. You can report on the website.

  16. I worked part time for thee years here in florida. I’m currently not working. I’m also retired and collects social security.
    My question is
    Am I qualified to file for unemployment ?

    • Ruby,

      To be eligible, you’re required to have sufficient hours and earnings. Please use the “Benefits Calculator” available on this website.

  17. So adjudication takes 8 to 12 weeks. Oh okay, that explains why I havent received payment since July. That surely helps just like the rest of the information that you give. And by the way. What’s the NEW reason you can’t get through to the Call Center.

    • Maria,
      I have gotten through to the call center (live agent) every time i’ve tried calling within the last 2 weeks. The number to a live agent (follow the prompts carefully) is (667)-207-6520. i have gotten through within 10 to 15 mins with each call i had made!

    • Deidre,

      You can easily apply for UI benefits on the official website of the Unemployment Office in your state.

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